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GIFFORD-JONES: Seeing-eye dog wins

Dr. Gifford Jones awards Ulysses for his humanitarian work with Danika Blackstock, who only has five per cent vision and no peripheral vision. Blackstock is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, working on a graduate degree. Ulysses takes her to class every day, and sleeps at her side during the class.
Dr. Gifford Jones awards Ulysses for his humanitarian work with Danika Blackstock, who only has five per cent vision and no peripheral vision. Blackstock is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, working on a graduate degree. Ulysses takes her to class every day, and sleeps at her side during the class. - Contributed

Ulysses awarded with the first W. Gifford-Jones Prize for Humanity

Readers may ask why I chose to award a service dog the first W. Gifford-Jones Prize for Humanity. And wonder why human achievement was ignored. There were plenty of reasons and it required only moments for me to choose a seeing-eye dog.

It’s been aptly said that, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself!” Harry S. Truman, former president of the U.S., an astute observer of the political scene in Washington, once remarked, “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.” Truman knew a dog would provide unconditional love regardless of what happened during his presidency.

The prize winner, Ulysses, will devote his entire life to the welfare of one person with decreased vision and protect her from danger. How many people are willing to give up everything in life to care for a single person, even a loved one, for the rest of their lives? It’s a near impossible assignment.

So, when I recently presented a cheque to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and also placed a medallion around the neck of Ulysses, an animal of uncommon devotion and intelligence, the intention was to send a powerful message. Can humans live up to the high standards and demanding tests this dog has endured?

Consider human history. Animals in the jungle kill only to eat. Humans have been slaughtering each other in the name of religion, the colour of their skin or some other insane reason for over two thousand years. Prejudice, bigotry and horrendous cruelty rage still. I see no end.

How long must we witness young children washed up dead on a Mediterranean beach? Or others scavenging for food, shelter, medical attention, or looking for dead parents where buildings lie in ruins after senseless wars. In our world evil, destruction, and cruelty have known no bounds. And I hope there is a special place in hell for world leaders who incite this continuing carnage and suffering.

Seeing-eye dogs never commit such sins. Nor will Ulysses, unlike humans, fall victim to “Pillitis”, demanding a pill for every anxiety and every ache and pain. The U.S. Centre for Health Statistics reports that for those over the age of 12 years, 13 per cent are taking antidepressant drugs. If you don’t think that represents a sick society, you’re smoking too much marijuana.

Some humans have also caused me a pile of trouble. For instance, Ulysses will never lie or be associated with human hypocrisy. Years ago, I fought to legalize heroin to ease the agony of terminal cancer. Yet critics and major organizations lied repeatedly about its value causing needless suffering. It was only after I visited England, did my own research and proved they were telling a pack of lies, that heroin was finally legalized in 1984.

Today the hypocrisy continues. Some addiction clinics are providing heroin addicts three injections of heroin daily. Yet in a survey of Toronto’s teaching hospitals I discovered that there is not one milligram of heroin available for patients dying of terminal cancer pain. This is human hypocrisy at its worst.

Let’s end on a happier note. Seeing-eye puppies begin their training at 16 months of age which lasts 26 weeks. During that time they work in all weather conditions except if it’s too hot. The course is intensive and requires extremely intelligent dogs. In the end, only about half of those trained become service dogs.

We all encounter a seeing-eye dog occasionally and invariably they kindle respect and admiration. The temptation is to want to pet them. Don’t do it.

Remember, the working dog is bent on protecting his owner at all cost. So, pretend he’s not there. Any distraction could result in an accident, for which you would be responsible.

So, considering the incredible devotion of this dog Ulysses and the humanitarian work of the CNIB society, why wouldn’t we want the first Gifford-Jones Prize winner to be a member of the canine race? They are what humans should be. There’s no contest.


Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a syndicated columnist whose medical column appears in The Guardian every Tuesday. Check out his website, Docgiff.com, which provides easy access to past columns and medical tips. For comments, readers are invited to email him at info@docgiff.com. He can also be found at Twitter.com/GiffordJonesMD.

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